Modern Problems (1981)
Movie review coming on 11/20/2023
Film and Plot Synopsis
Max Fiedler is a down on his luck air traffic controller who appears to be going through a rut in his life. When his live-in girlfriend Darcy decides to leave him due to his jealous, controlling behavior, Max finds himself in a deeper spiral. However, Max’s life changes dramatically when he is accidentally dosed with nuclear waste which gives him unexplained telekinetic powers. Now gifted, Max uses the strange abilities to help in win Darcy back. But is Max use of his powers just another thinly veiled attempt to control Darcy’s life again?
‘Modern Problems’ Movie Summary
One day, Max returns from another long repetitive and unsatisfying day at work to find that Darcy has left him due to his constant jealousy. Max is devastated. Matters get worse when he continues to run into Darcy everywhere he goes. However, it is not by accident since Max is going to the places that he used to frequent with Darcy. At the same time, Darcy has found a temporary shoulder to cry on with her platonic friend Barry (Mitch Kreindel). Barry has alternative plans for his “friendship” with Darcy, something that is obvious to Max.
Max tries to console himself by talking to his ex-wife Lorraine (Mary Kay Place), who he continues to have a good relationship with. While the pair discuss Max’s relationship issues at the park, they run into a friend of Max’s from high school, Brian Stills (Brian Doyle-Murray). Brian is a paraplegic after being injured in the Vietnam War who now works as the publisher for the controversial self-confidence author and notorious womanizer Mark Winslow (Dabney Coleman). Brian and Lorraine hit it off after the chance meeting and begin a relationship.
Brian invites both Lorraine and Max to a party for Mark at a gay nightclub. Once there, Max again encounters Barry and Darcy together. At the party, Max fixates on his relationship problems and is insulted by Mark who perceives Max as weak and incapable of taking what he wants. Max leaves the club alone but continues to have bad luck as the sunroof to his car breaks, leaving the roof open to the rain. During the drive, Max follows a tanker truck that spills nuclear waste onto Max’s car. Some of the substance spills onto Max who begins to glow neon green. Max returns home and falls right to sleep as the green glow appears to be absorbed into Max’s brain.
The next day, Max notices that he has developed telekinesis as he begins to move things around the room with his mind. Max immediately sees the opportunity to use his newfound powers for good by humiliating Barry any time he can. First, he causes Barry to bleed profusely at a restaurant in quantities of blood that would choke Dracula. Next, he causes Barry’s ballet production to follow into disarray by throwing the lead performer across the stage with his mind powers. Max’s efforts are effective and drive a wedge in between Barry and Darcy. This allows Max to get back into Darcy’s life again. They spend the night together and Max gives Darcy the best night of her sexual life using only his powers.
However, Max begins to feel guilty about his powers and what he does with them. Yet despite attempting to tell people, including Darcy, about his powers, no one believes them. Max begins to fall into a deep despair, either because of his guilty or because of the powers. Nothing that Darcy, Brian, or Lorraine does can pull him out of his funk.
Eventually, Max and Darcy go to Brian’s home by the ocean for the weekend to take a break from the world. Mark also comes up for the weekend and makes several passes at Darcy which she quickly rebuffs. However, Max’s jealous instincts return when he sees Mark trying to seduce Darcy. At dinner, Mark once again insults Max who uses his telekinesis to humiliate Mark in front of Darcy, Brian, Lorraine, and Brian’s cook Dorita (Nell Carter). Afterwards, Max fears he is becoming a monster because he always was a controlling boyfriend, and he retreats to his room. Dorita attempts to use voodoo powers to contain Max who laughs off the ancient magic. Next, an angered Mark tries to kill Max by shooting him in the head. Max stops the bullet with his powers and sends Mark sailing into the ceiling.
More convinced than ever that he is an out-of-control monster, Max climbs to the roof of Brian’s beach house, presumedly to commit suicide. Darcy follows him. Max questions how Darcy can love him while a lightening storm rages around the couple on the roof. Darcy confesses that she loves him no matter what. Clinging to a television antenna, Max is struck by lightning. The lightning shoots through the house and comes out of the television downstairs, hitting Dorita. Suddenly, the storm stops. Max realizes that his powers are gone, and he has returned to normal. Darcy forgives Max for his past transgressions, and Max finally realizes that Darcy loves him and him alone. Meanwhile, downstairs, Max’s powers have transferred to Dorita who uses her new abilities to do the housework.
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20th Century Fox released Modern Problems on December 25, 1981. Ken Shapiro directed the film starring Chevy Chase, Patti D'Arbanville, and Dabney Coleman.